I didn’t sleep so well on Monday night, I’m afraid. The motel I was staying at, which bills itself as “the highest Hotel in NZ”, was being rocked by strong gusts of wind. And, the mattress in my room (the last room they had, apparently) was sagging. And, someone on tripadvisor claimed there were bedbugs. All this combined for a less than stellar rest!
When I crawled out of bed at 6:30 or so and peered through the curtains, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the wind had cleared the clouds away, and the area was coated with a light dusting of snow. I threw on some clothes and went outside to have a look around, and found that it was cool, crisp, and lovely, with gusty winds.
During the night I was trying to decide whether to ski for a half day, or find something else to do. As it turned out, the weather made the decision for me – all ski areas were closed due to the high winds. Ah, just as well, I would have really had to improvise to put together the necessary ski gear! Instead of skiing, I decided to do some hiking. The trailhead for the hike to Taranaki Falls, a two hour loop, was just a few hundred feet from the hotel.
I got dressed for some wintry hiking, and took off down the trail. The hiking was fantastic. This area, Tongariro National Park, was used for a few locations in Lord of the Rings (Mordor and Mount Doom, if you must know) and was suitably awesome and mysterious. The trail altered between damp woods and open lava flows, with the volcanoes above shrouded in clouds and mist. As it was early, I had the trail nearly to myself.
After completing the loop, I took the quick jaunt to Tawhai Falls, another waterfall which is just half a kilometer from the road. I took a few pictures, and noticed that it had started to snow. Getting back to the car and looking around, I noticed that the clouds were starting to look a bit threatening. So, I decided to head to Okupata Caves. Figured I could hide in a cave if the weather started to get rough!
I started heading to the caves, but the road quickly became a lumber road. I started to get tired and depressed driving through kilometer after kilometer of clearcut lumbering debris, so I decided to bail on the cave idea. In fact, that has been the only real downer on my travels through the New Zealand countryside – the lumber business is very apparent here, and you frequently come across hillsides thar are scarred by heavy lumbering.
Instead of caving, I decided to hike for a bit on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, one of the most famous hiking trails in New Zealand. I hiked up to Soda Springs and back, about 2.5 miles each way through highly volcanic terrain. The weather was crisp and beautiful, and the trail climbed up into the valley between two snow-covered volcanoes. By the time I got to Soda Springs, I was tramping through six inches of crusty snow. Perfect place to turn around!
At this point, it was fairly late in the afternoon. I decided to continue working my way towards Wellington, and headed down the road towards Wanganui. Again, a beautiful drive through grass and forest covered mountains, with sheep and cattle everywhere. It was clear that the animals all have their babies this time of year, as there were lambs and calves everywhere. Very sweet and pastoral. At one point, I came around the bend and there was a flock of about thirty peacocks in the trees and on fenceposts – something I have never seen before!